The New Stigma - Lou Schwarcz Speech at Golf Fundraiser: September 12, 2013

I would like to welcome you all to our second annual Mental Health Association of Morris County Golf Classic.

I foremost want to thank Kevin Taunton for Chairing the Golf Committee. I also want to thank all the golf committee members and volunteers that made this night possible, and, of course, most of all, I want to thank Barb Flynn, Dorothy Faucett, and Meladee Ritter who put so much work behind this event….twice.  And also, of course, I want to thank Spring Brook Country Club for hosting us today.

We are gathered here tonight to support a special cause. We are here to come together as a community and support people with mental illness and their families.

This has been a hard year for people with mental illness. As a result of high profile shooting incidents, some involving people with mental illness, some not, people whom we serve are falling victim to stereotyping, stigma and discrimination.

The media is quick to point out that people with mental illness commit crimes, but much less likely to point to the fact that most people with psychiatric disabilities are more often the victims of crimes than perpetrators, other than in rare cases, where people with mental illness go untreated for long periods of time.

Instead of a call to arms to develop more responsive and effective treatment alternatives, the community at large has used this as an opportunity to further stigmatize people with mental illnesses.

The economic crisis of our day has also disproportionately impacted people with mental illness, as they are already compromised in their health issues and often struggle to work in a competitive environment.

For people with disabilities, it gets harder every year to find places to live, to work; and it is harder to get food on the table and heat in the winter.

People with mental illness feel more isolated, more disenfranchised, and more neglected.

Most sadly, they feel less hope then in more lucrative times.

In these troubled days, however, the Mental Health Association of Morris County is a beacon of hope to afflicted people.

Our agency has a unique way of delivering these services to the people we serve.

Most agencies require people to come to their offices to receive help.  However, through our outreach and case management services, we reach out to people with mental illness where they are: in their homes, in psychiatric hospitals, in shelters, on the streets, under bridges, in wooded areas, in jail, and in motels.

We then help them connect to employment, decent housing, social activities, and mental health treatment.

We do not judge them, but rather we assist them in getting back on their feet by helping them access a myriad of community supports that facilitate wellness and recovery, and that create personal independence from government support.

We also help them become advocates for their own recovery, trough our many peer run services, and through helping them to become a voice in the public policy arena.

Finally, we help the community to understand mental illness through our various educational programs, including our most recent initiative, the Mental Health First Aid Training Program, which teaches people in the community how to identify early signs of mental illness in order to intervene before their illness becomes a community crisis.

Our message today is that our services are for all people, and not just for people outside of ourselves and our loved ones.

All of us, everyone in this room, have been touched by mental illness in one way or another. None of us are immune.

Mental illness does not care whether you live in a large home in the suburbs, or an inner tenement.

It does not care if you are educated or not, or if your have means, or are poor, or if you have political influence or are disempowered, or if you are physically able bodied or not.

It neither cares about your life style choices, your culture, your religion, or any other demographic that may define you.

I have seen the best parents in the world have a child struck by mental illness, and I have seen rich and powerful executives fall down and suffer endlessly from depression, anxiety or substance abuse.

I have seen ministers and rabbis lose their faith due to their mental struggles, therapists lose their practices due to mental breakdowns, university professors unable to lecture, businessmen unable to sell their goods and services, actors unable to step on a stage, singers unable to harmonize, and blue collar workers not able to rise from their beds in the mornings to go to work.

I have seen thirty year marriages fail due to the late onset of mental illness in the marriage or other members of the family.

I have seen, in sum, people who have won everything in all walks of their lives, through good fortune, hard work, or both, lose every single one of their gains, when mental illness strikes them down.

I have also seen our unique agency step in to assist people when they are most despondent, depressed, and downtrodden.

I have seen this agency step in and assist people to heal from even the darkest places of mind and body that one can imagine.

By your presence here today, you are sending a message that our work matters.

You are sending a message that people can recover from even the most serious and persistent mental illnesses, if the proper supports are in place.

You are sending a message that the good work of the Mental Health Association of Morris County is a priority in our community; and that hope lives, that faith is possible, that recovery happens, and that no one in our society should have to live with the endless suffering of an untreated psychiatric condition.

Rather, we can lift people from places of despair to places of restoration, from decline to standing tall and upright, from mental illness to mental health, and from isolation to community inclusion.

So thank you for supporting our great cause today, and for being our supporter going forward, and please enjoy the rest of the evening.